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Always climbing

From the center of Pistoia to the centuries-old trees of Abetone: 29 June, the 39th ultramarathon.


It was 20 October 1968. Artidoro Berti, a native of Pistoia and with a great past as a marathon runner, decided, at the age of 48, to run solo the more than 50 kilometers that separate the city of Pistoia from Abetone. Neither the arduous, grueling climb to Le Piastre, nor Abetone’s hairpin curves scared him.  Sporting a simple, pale blue track suit and a striped wool cap, Artidoro covered the distance, with his short and nervous step, in just over 5 hours. Another great Olympic champion was waiting for him in Abetone’s Piazza Piramidi: Zeno Colò, the “Oslo hawk”, who hung a medal commemorating this historic feat around the neck of this athlete, and his contemporary, from Pistoia.


According to many people, it was precisely this “courageous and unique” climb that inaugurated the Pistoia-Abetone road race, as we know it today. Eight years later, on 18 July 1976, the athlete Silvano Fedi reclaimed this legacy, making Artidoro’s solitary race into a true competition that was destined shortly thereafter to become an international-level ultra-marathon.


This is its history. But today, nearly 40 years after the first race, what makes the Pistoia-Abetone race so special? What is the reason for its particular charm? The athletes share the same opinion: it is unique because it is an extremely difficult, challenging, and unforgettable experience owing to its unusual route, with only 5 km of apparently flat ground that then switches to a succession of breathtaking climbs (for a good 31 km) and descents. The comments of Sergio Pozzi, three-time winner and holder of a record that lasted for 25 years, sum it up for everyone: “This test is one of those for real men.”


Yet this exceptional level of competition does not explain by itself the reasons for such a broad and undisputed success. The Pistoia-Abetone numbers speak for themselves, with the race celebrating its 39th year next June 29.  In 2013, there were a record number of participants, with 1,717 athletes from 23 foreign countries starting. In addition to the main race, there are “events within the event”: the S. Marcello Pistoia, a 30-km intermediate competitive race, two non-competitive routes (the 14-km Pistoia-Le Piastre; the 20-km S. Marcello-Abetone Fitwalking), the race commonly known as the Fourth Milestone, a 3-km lap from Le Regine to Abetone dedicated to the differently-abled, and a night crossing from the Portafranca refuge to Abetone. Then there are the trophies to be awarded (four memorial and three national championships, including a gran fondo and an uphill ultra-marathon) as well as such collateral events as the international conference on ultra-marathons and an exhibition center.


Perhaps Pistoia-Abetone’s unique character also lies here in its constant search to represent something more than just a simple footrace. It is a “sports project” that its organizers, the ASCD Silvano Fedi, have envisioned as being all-encompassing since it includes such other areas as culture, tourism, and welfare. With that enlightened perspective, it has grown over the years, looking for a closer relationship with the area hosting it and with the many public and private partners making up its organizing committee with the Province of Pistoia at the head.


All this has a single purpose. From the austere Piazza Duomo to Abetone’s ancient trees through the beautiful Reno valley to finally arrive at Piazza Piramidi, everything has become an emotional experience for those who run these infinite 50 km: the artistic beauty, the colors of the spectators along the route, the charm of the natural landscape, the history that appears with the old factories, villages, ice-houses from  the beginning of the last century … And then, above all else, there are the three hundred children participating in the Fourth Milestone. For 11 years, they have preceded the athletes by a few minutes and who, in their wheelchairs, are the first to cross the finish line of the toughest race in the world



Simona Pallini


Massimo Carradori

[vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”23473,23471,23469,23467,23465″ title=”Always climbing”]

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